The Sketches of Moondays: We Kept Our Promise To You


Review by · May 14, 2006

And here we have it: Perhaps the rarest CD set I own, and easily one of the best. Back in 1997, a small Japanese game developer called Love-de-Lic, started by former Square staffer Ken’ichi Nishi, created a little-known RPG called “Moon” that completely defied convention. Giving you a behind-the-scenes look at daily life in your favorite RPG world, Moon managed to be an excellent satire of the genre, while still a fantastic game in its own right.

And Moon also had one heck of a soundtrack. See, your protagonist came equipped with an MD, or “Moon Disc” player, and during the course of the game, you were able to find or buy up to 36 different MDs to play in it. In short, you could create your own BGM playlist, and choose your own soundtrack for every occasion. The MDs used in the game were each real, honest-to-goodness songs, recorded for the game by over 30 different independent Japanese bands or artists, in an extremely large variety of genres — everything from Euro-pop to industrial to jazz to traditional koto music. Some tracks were also contributed by Love-de-Lic’s in-house band, the Thelonious Monkees, including the game’s super-catchy image song “KERA-MA-GO” (which Konami apparently used in the original release of their “Dance Maniax” rhythm game, consequently).

There were also certain scenes in the game which contained pre-set event-specific music, and most of these themes were contributed by the Thelonious Monkees as well.

And although the game received a one-disc soundtrack in 1997, most of the MD tracks were conspicuously absent from it, perhaps due to legal issues involving the various bands and artists that composed them. This was all remedied in December of 2002, however, when Love-de-Lic released a much more complete, 3-disc set entitled “The Sketches of Moondays: We Kept Our Promise To You.” This new release saw the inclusion of every single MD track, most kept in their original forms and given little more than a boost in recording quality, but some remixed just for the occasion as well.

This set, which could only be ordered through Love-de-Lic’s website for a period of about a year (and would only be shipped to a Japanese address even then), was released in a rather nondescript white box, with an embossed “engraving” of the game’s protagonist on the cover. Each CD inside this box came in its own thin jewel case bearing unique liner art (the third disc featuring the original cover from the 1997 soundtrack), and the set came packaged with a whole heap of bonus goodies for the collectors out there: two sets of liner notes (one depicting a male and female version of the game’s mascot character, the radio wave monkey, wandering through a variety of game backdrops in full color), a giant sticker featuring the combined cover arts for discs one and two, and a postcard containing sheet music for the game’s theme song “Promise,” signed and personalized for each order by the Thelonious Monkees themselves (my postcard reads “Promise to Wyrdwad,” for example). There was also a rather nice promotion for the first wave of orders, in which you could register to win an additional prize: a small pin depicting either the game’s protagonist or the plucky young pop-idol waitress character Kris, a deck of Moon-themed karuta cards (a popular Japanese children’s game), or possibly even a Love-de-Lic plaque — one of only two in existence, the other hanging on the wall of Love-de-Lic’s Tokyo office. The catch is, you had to choose which prize you were shooting for when you initially ordered the set, and would be entered in the running for that prize only — and with only one plaque and five karuta decks being given away, versus an extremely large number of pins, I elected to try for a pin. This bit of wussiness on my part paid off, though, as I ended up scoring one, of the Kris variety. Unfortunately, it’s really not all that great of a pin, so I probably should have set my sights higher after all!

At any rate, I think I’ve effectively established how one-of-a-kind the Moondays set is in terms of packaging and extras, but what of the music? After all, no matter how flashy an OST’s presentation may be, it means nothing if the music itself isn’t worth the purchase price (and this set was not easy on the wallet, bearing a list price of 5000 yen, or around $45 U.S.!). Fortunately, Moondays is not only a good soundtrack, it’s a musical marvel. This is easily my favorite game soundtrack that I own, and ranks rather high among my favorite albums of all time, as well. It’s unique, it’s diverse, it’s a wee bit crazy, and it’s just genuinely good music all the way around. And I can tell you this right now: you’ve never heard another soundtrack like this one before, especially not for an RPG. When I played this for a friend of mine, and told her it was all music from a single PS1 game — and an RPG, at that — she was absolutely shocked, as she assumed it to be a high-end Japanese indie artist compilation (though in a sense, it kind of is!).

The three discs of Moondays are each held together by a modest, yet surprisingly well-established underlying theme.

Disc 1 is the “Day Side,” and is populated entirely by MD tracks except for the first, which is a faithful and gracefully-performed piano rendition of the classical piece “Clair de Luna” (used as pre-set BGM for the hero’s mother’s house, in-game). Most of the tracks on this CD, in keeping with its “day side” theme, are very energizing and upbeat, with the songs flowing from one to the next as if to emulate a full daytime cycle.

Disc 2 is the “Night Side,” and is populated entirely by MD tracks except for the last, which is an original vocal piece recorded by the Thelonious Monkees in 2002 specifically for Moondays. As with the “day side,” most of the tracks on this second disc are completely in keeping with its nighttime theme, each presenting either a somber or wild trance-like atmosphere. There’s a lot of repetition, and the whole disc seems to make you want to “zone out” a bit.

And finally, disc 3 is the “Moon Side,” including the majority of the original 1997 soundtrack, as well as several bonus tracks that were previously missing from it. These songs make up the bulk of the pre-set non-MD event-based music in the game, and are among my personal favorites — though as with a lot of RPG soundtracks, that may be largely due to the fact that I’ve played through the game, and have very specific memories associated with these songs, so your mileage may vary.

No matter which disc you listen to, though, musical diversity is the name of the game here, with an absolutely mindblowing number of genres represented. Disc 1, for example, opens with a classical piece, follows it up with a head-shatteringly off-the-wall rockabilly amusement park ride of a vocal theme (complete with Chipmunks-style intro vocals and a lead singer who seems to be gargling water), then moves on to a simple, jazzy instrumental rock piece that’s guaranteed to get your toes a-tappin’. Other tracks on this disc include the breezy and haunting vocal ambience of “I’m Waiting For the Night” and “The Other Jet,” the Moby-style light techno of “Heads in the Clouds,” the traditional Japanese vocals and koto music of “Bubble Song,” the pure unadulterated funk of “Madam Car Krush” (extremely reminiscent of “Bee Jam Blues” from the Gitaroo Man OST), and the saxophone-heavy smooth jazz of “226 46th St” (which I swear sounds like the opening theme to an 80s sitcom). One of my favorites on this disc, actually, is a track called “Emotion2,” which sounds kind of like an old MOD or S3M file from back in the day when all the “leet hax0rs” in Europe would make absolutely outstanding musical masterpieces out of heavy percussion, technoey synth, and extremely catchy melodies loaded with echo effects and dynamics to evoke emotional responses from the listener.

I’d like to say disc 2 is more subdued than disc 1, but in many ways it’s actually a lot more wild and chaotic. It seems to alternate between the two states of mind one generally associates with nighttime: restful quietude, and insane drunken partying. The disc begins with the former serenity, starting us off with an improvisational blues piece called “Moon Trips” played on harmonica and accordion. It maintains this relaxing feeling for a good five or six tracks, slowly building in energy with songs like the expertly-played koto piece “Moonlight Jongara Road” and the Thelonious Monkees’ trance-like techno work “Bubble Star.” Finally, the disc simply lets loose and explodes with “Mei Hao De,” barraging you with screams, shouts, totally wild percussion, and — from what I understand — very broken and poorly-pronounced Chinese lyrics about beauty and happiness. The rest of the disc is then one big party, with tracks like the hardcore techno club song “Tilt” (performed by DDR veteran band FinalOffset), the uniquely percussive “Killah Blues” (which mixes gunshot sounds in with its unforgiving backbeat), and the beautiful jazz-rock fusion piece “Simone” (harmonizing saxophone and guitar in ways I’d never thought possible). Without a doubt my favorite track on this CD, however, is one of those from its humble beginnings: “Song for Spinning Silver Thread,” a positively stunning vocal ballad that simply tugs at your heartstrings with its haunting melody and vocals, and its understated yet gorgeous instrumentation. This happens to be one of the MD tracks that was remixed most heavily, as the version heard in-game was entirely instrumental and synthesized — and let me tell you, this is one outstanding remix, completely destroying the original in every way.

Disc 3, then, is perhaps the most mixed bag of them all, despite containing no MD tracks whatsoever. It starts with the very 8-bit-inspired name entry song from the “Fake Moon” RPG parody at the beginning of the game, then moves on to an extremely eclectic mix of fairly typical yet well-done RPG fare (the “Flower Trilogy” and “Haunted House” tracks, “Tears of Machine,” and “Seaside Walkway”), dischordant and atonal yet curiously appealing experimental works (the two “A Hero Struggles Until Death” tracks and “Moon Trilogy ~ All We Need Is Love”), an epic-grade all-violin masterwork (“Theme of the Midnight University”), a 7-minute-long nonstop dance-club medley (“DJ Psyche Dance Mix”), the best dang airship theme you’ve ever heard (“Departure”), and some other stuff that just plain defies classification (like the insanely noisy yet inexplicably catchy “Reach-Air-Burst,” by the same band that contributed the similarly cacophonous-yet-intriguing “warp-wet-woods” MD track on disc 1). One of the more unique titles on this CD is “Adder Electro,” which takes an extremely short drumbeat used in one specific part of Moon, and expands it into a full song by throwing in a drum-machine backbeat, some interesting sitar work (yes, sitar), and an entire rap section made up of crazy incomprehensible voice snippets from the game’s trippy spiritualist character Adder and his many followers (with a Michael Jackson-style “OW!” at the end of each verse). Disc 3 also sports several variations on the game’s main theme song “Promise,” my personal favorite of which is the “Moon Trilogy ~ Promise” version. Although it begins like a poorly-synthesized breaking news story, the second half of the song is an awe-inspiringly beautiful arrangement of the standard “dream version” piano melody, which was already quite beautiful to begin with.

There’s also a brand new vocal version of “Promise” at the end of disc 2, recorded specifically for Moondays — though truth be told, it’s really not very good. The background music is a bit too overly chaotic, the vocals are mediocre at best, and the English lyrics are rather painfully butchered. It’s not terrible by any means, but it definitely can’t compare with any of the other versions of Promise on this soundtrack, nor the arrangement of it featured on the “Melody of Legend: Chapter of Love” album.

Fortunately, there’s always “KERA-MA-GO.” No review of Moondays would be complete without a thorough discussion on the game’s highly irregular, yet completely infectious image song. Supposedly performed by the game’s plucky young pop-idol waitress character Kris, it was actually sung by a 12-year-old girl named Krysta Ashley Schulze, a U.S. resident who happened to be in Japan at the time Moon’s soundtrack was being recorded. The lyrics to this ultra-cute, ultra-happy little ditty, however, are neither in English nor Japanese, instead sung in what seems almost like a child’s made-up language, with random bits of English thrown in here and there for good measure. The first line of the song, for example, seems to be “wikki tikki lin lin wikki wakki likki lin.” The mixture of adorably fluttery music and nonsensical child vocals simply infuses this song with so much saccharine sweetness that listening to it might just make your teeth fall out — but it’s well worth it, because this has gotta be one of the catchiest and most unique game vocal themes ever.

There are three versions of “KERA-MA-GO” on Moondays: the shorter “MD version,” the “full version,” and the “live version.” The full version of the song, which closes out the third disc (and the game, for that matter), is barnone the most interesting, as the saccharine sweetness eventually gives way to some truly funky bass guitar jamming, muted jazz piano, choral harmony, and more odd multi-lingual chewed-up voice snippets from the game (which are somehow very fitting in this particular song). The live version is also not without its charms, however, as it really does sound live (despite some little clues that suggest it probably isn’t), with ample crowd cheers, live acoustics, all-piano backing, and a slightly more vibrant vocal performance by Krysta (with some interesting flairs not present in either of the other versions).

Not every track on Moondays is a masterpiece, of course. Personally, I find some to be really rather terrible, truth be told. But for every bad track, there are 5 or 6 others that range from pretty good to freakin’ amazing. The best part of Moondays, too, is that no two people will have the same favorite songs. What I think of as terrible tracks, for example, you might consider to be some of the best on the whole album. There’s such a huge variety of music to be found on Moondays that there really is a little something for everyone, no matter how “out there” your tastes may be.

This is without a doubt one of the most eclectic and varied game soundtracks ever produced, and I can’t think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend it to. Even if you’re not into video game music, Moondays makes for an outstanding album in its own right, and a great introduction to a wide variety of lesser-known independent Japanese artists. In fact, it’s thanks to Moondays that I discovered Qypthone, one of my current favorite bands. And I still listen to Moondays quite regularly, and have introduced a great many of my friends and family to it, with favorable results every time.

It’s not an easy task to track down this elusive wonder nowadays, and it’ll be pretty expensive even if you do find it… but trust me, it’s definitely worth your time and money. I’ve met no one who dislikes this album so far, and I doubt I ever will. This is definitely the cream of the crop as far as game music goes, and is most assuredly not one to be missed.

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